Instructing Inspectors

Two veteran training experts take on their toughest challenge yet - the border agencies.

In 26 years of federal service, Marjorie Budd has trained soldiers and tax specialists, doctors and procurement experts. She has lectured widely and won a trunk full of awards. In the late 1990s, she was the lead author of Getting Results Through Learning, a handbook that became a bestseller in reinventing government circles, selling 200,000 copies and winning one of Vice President Al Gore's Hammer Awards. Lately, however, Budd has been training inspectors-the 18,000 inspectors that stand guard at U.S. land borders, seaports and international airports, to be precise-in the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Bureau.

As CBP's assistant commissioner for training and development, Budd led the design of a training program aimed at helping to merge three inspection jobs into two positions: CBP officer and agriculture specialist. Now former Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inspectors perform the three jobs. Budd is the first to admit the merger isn't easy for workers. "I think there is some nervousness. People say, 'I've been doing this for 25 years. How can I learn a new profession?' "

The gist of the effort is to train former Customs inspectors (who examined goods) and INS inspectors (who vetted people) to perform each other's jobs, and to give them some additional training in plant and animal inspection. Agriculture inspectors also are getting new training, although officials intend agriculture inspection to remain a separate specialty.

Cross-training kicked off in July 2003, when former Customs and INS inspectors at international airports began to trade duties. A Customs inspector met returning U.S. citizens, while an INS inspector examined their belongings. In April, Customs and INS inspectors learning each other's specialties will meet international air travelers. Inspectors at seaports started cross-training in January. At land border crossings, inspectors have been cross-trained in the basic rules of immigration and customs law for years; CBP has yet to decide when more advanced cross-training will unfold there.

Training is being conducted in the field. Budd believes that working with inspectors at their home ports is the best way to make training stick. "You want to make it as close to the actual job environment as possible," she says.

All told, veteran inspectors will receive training in 17 skill areas. Sessions can range from an hour to 19 days and are tailored to inspectors' locations. For example, INS inspectors at airports won't learn the finer points of inspecting sea cargo. Inspectors must pass tests to be certified as CBP officers; the agency is still developing a policy on what happens to inspectors who don't pass. "It will take years and years to make sure everyone is fully cross-trained," says Budd.

Brand-new inspectors get 71 days of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Ga. They learn the basics of customs and immigration inspection under the watchful eye of John McKay, head of the CBP Academy, who served as director of training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1993 to 2000.

McKay is quick to point out that new inspectors also will receive 16 hours of training in agriculture inspection, up from four hours under the old Customs inspection program. Farm groups have questioned whether the cross-training will water down agriculture inspection, but CBP officials insist screening will be tightened. After their FLETC course, rookie CBP officers will spend a year training at a port, before taking a two- to four-week "capstone" course.

Budd retired in January, shortly before the first class of CBP officers graduated from their FLETC training. Neither she nor McKay underestimates the challenges facing the cross-trained inspectors. "Every one of them has to learn two additional jobs," says McKay. "But they can do it."

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